I noticed this evening that Australia’s desperately reputable Today Tonight program (why Matt White, why?) decided to air a story criticising the travel exploits of the Prime Minister. Personally, I am not sure what is driving this story, which has been running for some time now, or how many people out there really are concerned that Kevin Rudd is spending too much time overseas. Perhaps more than anything it is a statement about the fairly uncontroversial nature with which Rudd has lead his government so far. This is a truly petty cudgel with which to attempt to beat a government.
While it is true that Rudd has travelled more than any other Prime Minister in his first year, it’s also pretty fair to say that the crises facing the world today have demanded a significant increase in the level of interaction and dialogue between the world’s leaders. Relationships forged in face-to-face discussions are inevitably going to be stronger and more valuable than relationships based on the phone or online – and you just can’t phone in a formal meeting with a head of state, I’m sorry to say. The message that would send to peers would be that the Prime Minister does not value them personally or the people they represent.
Another common criticism stems from the so-called diplomatic ambitions of the Prime Minister. Bernard Keane from Crikey offered up just such a jibe on Today Tonight, namely that Rudd’s grand diplomatic designs on the world stage are partly to blame for the Prime Minister’s travel bill. If by this he means that the Prime Minister wants to take a proactive hand in shaping the foreign policy direction of the nation, I don’t see this as a problem. Keane and others may have been desensitised during the Howard years to the needs of the modern world of foreign policy, but Australia now has someone leading the country who has the calibre to reputably take the nation’s concerns to the bargaining tables of the world. It would quite simply be foolhardy for Rudd’s talents in this area to be wasted by keeping him at home, sad, myopic and isolated like John Howard’s Australia always was.
In short, these criticisms form a particularly thin broth; one-part rank political opportunism to two-parts tall-poppy syndrome. The sooner the nation moves on and starts arguing about political issues that actually matter, the better for all of us.